Ex-Hong Kong official pleads not guilty to U.S. corruption charges

NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A former Hong Kong government official on Monday pleaded not guilty to U.S. charges he took part in a scheme to bribe officials in Chad and Uganda in exchange for contracts for a Chinese energy company.

Chi Ping Patrick Ho, 68, pleaded not guilty to charges of violating U.S. foreign corruption law, money laundering and conspiracy before U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan.

Ho, a former Hong Kong home affairs secretary, was arrested in November along with former Senegal Foreign Minister Cheikh Gadio, 61.

U.S. prosecutors have said Ho arranged bribes on behalf of a Chinese energy company that funds an organization he leads.

Ho is secretary general of the Hong Kong-based China Energy Fund Committee, which describes itself as a charitable non-government organization. The organization is fully funded by CEFC China Energy, a Shanghai-based private conglomerate, according to its website.

CEFC China Energy said in a statement posted on its website after the charges were announced in November that it had no investment in Uganda, and that it had acquired an investment in Chad from Taiwan’s state-owned Chinese Petroleum Corp without dealing directly with Chad’s government.

“The company will continue monitoring this matter and will take necessary measures based on developments,” it said.

Prosecutors said Ho caused the energy company to offer a $2 million bribe to the president of Chad in 2015 in exchange for exclusive oil rights in that country. They said Gadio connected Ho with the president, and received $400,000 from Ho for his help.

Idriss Deby has been Chad’s president since 1990. The government of Chad has denied the U.S. charges.

Prosecutors also said that Ho caused $500,000 to be wired to Uganda’s foreign minister in 2016, with the promise of further payments in the future, to secure favors for the Chinese company, including the potential acquisition of a Ugandan bank.

Sam Kutesa, who previously served as president of the U.N. General Assembly, has been Uganda’s foreign minister since 2015. Uganda has denied the allegations.

Ho’s lawyers had asked to have him released on bail in a court filing on Friday, but they did not mention that request in court on Monday, and declined to comment after the hearing.

Prosecutors said in a court filing in December that they were engaged in discussions about Gadio’s case with his lawyer. The lawyer, Sean Hecker, declined to comment on Monday. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)